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SEO Primer for Startups
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I am not a big believer in spending too much time on search engine optimization (SEO) as it can be costly, time-consuming, and distract you from the other, more important, aspects of building your business. A startup’s resources are more effectively used in creating great content on your website that is useful to your customers and will make them want to do business with you – because attracting paying customers, not search bots — are really what you are after in the long run.

But having said that, I recommend that all new businesses implement some basic SEO principles.  Do these things and your page is more likely to come up higher in search results when potential customers are searching for businesses like yours.

  1. Include three types of Meta tags on each page of your website: The title is a short phrase that tells what the page is about; the description is a one or two sentence summary of the page content; keywords are five or so terms that someone would use to search for the content on your page.  Since the title and description are what typically appear on the search engine results page, they are worth doing well even without the SEO considerations.
  2. Use headers and subheads to break text into chunks.  Doing so not only helps with readability, but the keywords in the headers and subheads will help the search engine understand (and therefore rank) your content better.
  3. Use descriptive URLs: directory and file names with relevant words provide both search engines and potential readers with more information than those with more cryptic names.  For example, “wickedstart.com/features/start-a-new-business-video” is preferable to “wickedstart.com/1/detail.”
  4. Label images & videos: give image files short, descriptive names (e.g. “Vangogh-poster.jpg” rather than “picture13456x.jpg”) and use a similar descriptive phrase in the alt tag that accompanies each image (e.g. “Poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night”).  If appropriate to the design of your page, you should also write a short caption on the page below the image (e.g. “High Quality Prints of Van Gogh’s Starry Night”).  Identifying your images with these three types of text labels helps the search engines understand your content better, and also allows users of the site to know what’s missing if they can’t see the image.
  5. Add sitemap files. Your startup’s website should have at least two sitemaps: one that lists each page in a logical order to help customers find what they need and one formatted just for search engines.  In addition, if your site fairly image-heavy, add an image sitemap that provides search bots with more information about the graphic and video files on your site.

SEO can be a trial & error process.  You may find that you need to play around with different phrases until you find the key words that work the best for your site.  And you should have someone else take a look at all of your descriptions to make sure they are clear, concise, and portray your business to its best advantage.  It may take a while for each change you make to have any effect, since the search engine bots don’t necessarily scan your site every day.  But be patient and stay at it, keeping Thomas Edison’s words in mind: I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Bryan JaneczkoFounder, Wicked Start
Bryan has successfully launched multiple startups. His latest venture, Wicked Start, provides tools to plan, fund, and launch a new business. Also author of WickedStart: Guide to Starting a New Venture with Passion and Purpose, Bryan is committed to helping small businesses grow and succeed.
www.wickedstart.com | Facebook | @WickedStart | LinkedIn | More from Bryan

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Discussion (3) Comment


  1. Carrie HillVisitor

    I think this is a good list of strict basics – but I would argue that how involved you need to be in SEO depends upon the nature of your startup. If you’re relying 100% on web traffic – you CANNOT just get by with the basics.

    Check out this study from Conductor – http://www.conductor.com/blog/2013/06/data-310-million-visits-nearly-half-of-all-web-site-traffic-comes-from-natural-search/ – over 50% of visits coming from Organic Search (what SEO influences) when looking at 30 websites across six industries. They looked at inbound traffic over a one-year period, analyzing over 310 million visits in total.

    Can your startup leave that much on the table? I think the niche and the audience is really a contributing factor here.

    • I agree that there is a wide range of variables, including the type of business and target market, that should determine an organization’s web strategy. And while I also agree that SEO has its place (hence the post!), I believe it is becoming less important as the search engines change their algorithms to rank sites based on other factors — which they have done, perhaps, because of the influence of SEO technology companies like Conductor.


    • Thomas WrightVisitor

      I have to agree with Carrie Hill. In fact, unless you are doing external marketing to drive traffic to your website or are popular with social-type web representation, (think “viral”) I think SEO is vital to success. If you are not on the first page of major search engines for popular search terms relevant to your success, especially Google since it has the Lion’s share of search traffic, then you might as well be invisible.

      I work with small businesses everyday as well as start-ups and have been involved in search engine marketing since the inception of search engines and the ones that are successful are the ones driving traffic to their websites from major search engines. And that requires ongoing SEO.

      Yes, it is only part of the package. In fact, ongoing web analytics is also a vital part of the equation to grow your website. You need insight and data, like having a two-way mirror into your site traffic if you are going to be successful.

      Then there is social marketing (Think Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) which is also important. As well as Local Marketing (such as Google Places).

      Too, you must generate interest from other sites across the web (proper link building, social signals and so forth) otherwise Google will not take much notice of you.

      And if you are paying attention to your web analytics then you will also be split testing pages and constantly tweaking your on-page development to continue to grow your engagement of your audience. A website might be likened to a river if it is without motion it will eventually stagnate and die if it is in constant motion it will remain fresh and vibrant and clean.

      I will mention too that the information might have been gleaned from a more outdated source without current knowledge of SEO 101. The reason I say that is everyone in the SEO business knows that the meta keyword tag is pretty much useless these days as any of the major search engines do not use it so we tend to ignore it and not recommend it as being worried about. I think it is also important to mention when you give advice about the meta tags that search engines will truncate anything over a certain length. The rule of thumb for the description tag is about 155 characters. And for the meta title tag about 75 characters but last time I counted Google only showed 69. So this needs to be kept in mind as you write your meta description and meta title tags.

      Sorry, but as an SEO primer for startups, I find it lacking. And SEO is by no means dead or less important than any of the other things that will lead you to success on the internet. In fact, without good SEO, you might be invisible.

 

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